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[Traveliries] How Mt. Tapulao brought me to my knees

I’m not one to broadcast my failures online – Facebook, Twitter, this blog….but I promised myself I’ll be more fearless for this year. Posting this may be a good start. It’s quite poetic that my first post for this year is about failure and probably won’t be the last.

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What a wonderful day for a hike (HAH!)

So early last year, I participated in my fourth climb  with two of my college friends – Len and Jam. Len had been an avid hiker long before Jam and I got into mountaineering and when she told us about Mt. Tapulao which features Pulag-like scenery and fog, we quickly said yes to the invite without researching about the mountain. Our blood is singing with longing for the Great Outdoors, a veritable escape from the tediousness of city life. Not to mention the package is cheap! Just PHP650.00 for a day hike which includes transportation and guide fee*. There’s no way we’re gonna pass it up.

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Mt. Tapulao is the highest mountain range in Zambales region. We left Cubao around 9PM in the evening because we need to get be in the jump-off point at 3 AM to start the trek. The three of us were happily chatting inside the bus, blissfully ignorant to the torturous trek ahead. Looking back now, the whole trip went smoothly. Too smoothly, in my opinion. Knowing my luck, I should have known that was a sign for the things yet to come.

Before the sun rose, we set off to the infamous Rocky Road, the first phase of the trek. Why Rocky Road you ask? Just take a look at the picture below. And if you’re thinking ‘Meh, that’s just the quarter of the trek. It can’t go on forever’ then you’re WRONG. The Rocky Road is like 80% of the trek and by the time you descend Mt. Tapulao, the mere sight of a harmless rock will drive you nuts. Nuts, I tell ya! (I can’t eat a rocky road ice cream without having a flashback of rocks, rocks everywhere)

The rocks don’t disappear. They just keep getting bigger and bigger.

As far as I remember, the route to Mt. Tapulao covers 16 stations of which I don’t know how it was divided. Let’s just say up until Station 14 or 13, you’ll be tripping on rocks until you finally enter the pine tree forest, the most scenic part of the hike. Jam and Len went as far as Station 14 while I, worried about the dusk, decided to climb down earlier. It was around 1 PM and we haven’t reached the peak yet!

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In my previous hikes, I used to enjoy the descent more so than the climb. At least, I have some help from gravity when it comes to pacing. With Mt. Tapulao, the hike down is just as painful to the knees as the climb. The rocks are slippery and my knees are close to buckling down from exhaustion. I swear I have to ask my guide to have a rest every ten minutes or so. And when things couldn’t get any worse, it rained. Heavily.

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Pictures of the pine forest courtesy of my good friend Jam. Check out her amazing blog https://wandergirldiaries.wordpress.com/

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Jam’s cool shots near Camp 1

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Good thing I brought some extra clothes and underwear for the occasion. When we arrive back to the Rangers’ Station, it was nearly 3 PM and I changed off my wet clothes without some competition from other hikes. After comforting myself with a cup of warm noodles, I collapsed to one of the benches and slept until evening like a wimp.

TIPS BEFORE GOING TO MT. TAPULAO:

  • If you’re a beginner, I STRONGLY recommend you to join the the overnight hike instead of the dayhike. If you want to challenge yourself, prepare prepare prepare weeks before the actual hike.
  • A walking stick will be very useful especially during descent. By this time, your knees may buckle anytime and it’s good to have a stick to support you.
  • Always bring a poncho or a raincoat. Don’t take the weather lightly.
  • Wear comfortable footwear. You’re gonna rely on it especially during the Rocky Road.
  • Mt. Tapulao is also a perfect pre-major hike climb. If you want to take on Mt. Pulag’s infamous Akiki challenge, Mt. Tapulao can prepare you for the terrain and the altitude.
  • And don’t get discouraged! Whether you reach the summit or not within the allotted time, it doesn’t matter. We have revenge hikes for a reason 🙂
  • Have fun! Make sure you file your one-day vacation leave after the hike.

 

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A Day at the Garden City

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It’s not easy to go cheap in a city like Singapore where the price of a normal commodity is enough to freak the daylights out of our Filipino frugality, but it is entirely possible to experience the city without spending too much. If you’re a casual tourist like me, or a backpacker just passing through or a student who represents your country for an international conference held here, you can still make the most out of your meager budget in the Garden City.

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Marina Bay Sands

Singapore is a small island-state in Southeast Asia that’s been looked up to by its neighbors for a long time. My country, the Philippines, is one of them.

And for good reason too. Around 50 years ago, Singapore was a just an overlooked, backwater swampland teetering on civil unrest and poverty. It had lost its membership from the Malaysian Federal States due to the “overwhelming” differences on views of their leaders. No one really expected Singapore to make it after the separation but the great thing about Singapore is it did.

Under the guidance of a well-meaning Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the innovative vision of its top government officials and the collective maturity of its people, Singapore is the powerhouse country we know now, a democratic state of people who respects the authority of law and trusts the government to do its job.

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Singapore is often known as the Garden City. I heard that the late Prime Minister Lee’s wife was fond of orchids and I think it played a part in Lee’s overall vision for the city. Singapore may be a concrete jungle for some nature trekkers or backpackers but it’s one damn beautiful concrete jungle. I suspect the shapes, sizes and linings of skyscrapers are intricately planned and designed to form a harmonious, sophisticated feel on the eyes. It would be a great idea if some of government scholars who took up engineering, architecture and urban planning would spend a week in Singapore and just have a pleasant stroll around its streets, hang out on its parks or go inside one of its buildings.

This is what I did. I don’t have any itinerary in mind (partly because of my low-budget plan) I just go where my feet would take me and that has been my motto as a traveler since I consider myself as one.

Dinner at Changi Bay

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A mom and her daughter enjoy the waves

I arrived on Singapore at exactly 6:05 PM. The sky is still clear and bright, unlike in Manila where dusk would have fallen around this time. Travel guides and websites weren’t lying that the Changi International Airport is one of the efficient airports, if not the best, in Asia. It is literally a shopping mall inside an airport. Once your plane made a lay-over in Changi and your transfer flight wouldn’t be due until six hours later, you can avail a tour of Singapore’s most iconic sights and it’s all paid by the airport.

If you’re planning to stay in Singapore for a long time, you can purchase a local sim which costs around $15.00 (PHP 500) inside the airport. They will also get you an affordable internet promo depending on the length of your stay. Internet in Singapore, as I attested, is nothing compared here. It is expensive, but the fast connection is worth it.

At around 7PM, my aunt, who’s been staying at Singapore for more than five years now, picked me up from Terminal 2 and we had our early dinner at Changi Bay. They have a nice boulevard with a road good enough for biking, skating or a leisure jog. We settled ourselves in one of the benches at a food center not far away from the beach and I became easily relaxed with the Monday after-work chill of the people around me.

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My first Singaporean meal – the Satay: skewered pork (and chicken meat) dipped in Indian sauce

Food in Singapore costs about $4.00 – $7.00 SGD (150.00 – 330.00 in Peso), depending on the menu. They also serve this large noodle dish with seafood and spice, and it’s good enough for two people. You can get cheaper food if you’re traveling with a companion or two.

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Long strip of beach along Changi Bay

Taxi Fares 

You can trust the taxi drivers (most, if not all) in Singapore to be honest with what they charge you. I like to think that their meters are reliable and they give you the exact change even in cents. My aunt said refusing a commuter out of preference to traffic, or the race of religion of a commuter is a serious legal offense. Inside the cab, their personal identification cards are displayed along with numbers to contact if the commuter feels harassed or unsafe.

Base fare, as far as I remember, is $4.00 SGD (PHP 150.00) and I recommend taking it as last possible resort or if you’re traveling in groups. Unlike here in Manila, however, five or more people are strictly not allowed inside a cab. For budget tour around the city, you can take a bus which costs around $0.40 – $1.60 SGD (PHP 13.00 – 50.00) depending on your destination.

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We reached my aunt’s place and we settled in for tonight. I learned that an apartment unit in Singapore is only allowed 99 years under your property. It’s one of the drastic measures the government has to take to control the booming of migrants and to maximize the dwindling space in the city. And seeing a lot of cranes and lots being excavated where a skyscraper shall soon rise, it seemed Singapore keeps on growing. It is still at the tail-end of its construction and I doubt the momentum would stop as long as it’s economy is growing.

On the my first night in Singapore, I lay on the couch beside the tall windows, watching at the twinkling of lights on the buildings near my aunt’s apartment. Everything in this city is damn efficient, I remembered thinking before falling asleep.

Lucky Plaza

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I asked my aunt on breakfast where do Filipinos hang out in Singapore. Pinoys thrive in communities and common interests, no matter where they are in the world. Naturally, she took me into a place where Filipinos mostly hang out and that’s the Lucky Plaza Mall.

It’s got everything that can somehow ease your homesickness if you’ve recently come to Singapore to work. It even has Jollibee, for crying out loud! It’s also a convenient place where you can remit your money back home, do some groceries for Filipino products or brands, or just chill with your fellow kababayans on Sunday evenings. My aunt told me they also go on this building at Orchard Road for a disco on Sundays but as a couch potato (I habit I wouldn’t change wherever I am) I refused to go, opting to spend that particular evening enjoying the ultra-fast connection at her apartment.

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Pratas – an egg fried dipped in indian curry – was my first Singaporean breakfast

Marina Bay Sands

After getting some food in Lucky Plaza, we took an MRT going to Marina Bay. I don’t even want to compare the MRT there versus the MRT here. C’mon! What I just like to point out however is that the MRT in Singapore is carefully and well thought off. It’s not a single, linear lane that we have here, but a complex grid of stations and terminals that overlap each other so the commuter would have the fastest, easiest travel on the destination they want.

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MRT rides cost around $1.15 – 2.50 at most (PHP 38.00 – PHP 80.00) at most but it’s still the fastest mode of transportation if you want to avoid traffic that much. Before going up (or down) the terminal, an LED sign would indicate how many minutes until the next train would arrive so that you can calculate your time of travel effectively.

We dropped off Marina Station and strolled towards the world-famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Before that, we passed over an impressive river that is as much as every bit historical as it was picturesque. Fifty years ago, this river has been littered with small bancas and small ships manned by half-naked men whose sweat-stained skin shone under the sun, a typical sight for a busy British outpost. Now, an occasional tourist ship would just pass by, distorting the reflections of the sleek buildings, the bowl-shaped entrance to the Museum of Science and Arts and tourists passing by the wooden platforms lined around it.

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We walked to the Marina Bay Hotel and as we come closer, I feel my jaw dropping more ever so slightly. The whole thing is enormous. I can’t exactly describe how much of an eye-candy it is and I’ll just let my pictures to tell it for you.

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You can gain access at the top of the hotel and get a sweeping view of Singapore for $23.00 (PHP760.00) My aunt asked if I would like to go  up but being a killjoy (and cheap) I am, I decided not too. I’m not really a fan of heights and especially not a fan of a soaring price for entrance tickets (though I’m sure it would be worth it! Getting on top of Marina Bay AT NIGHT is highly-recommended)

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Merlion

Singapore’s proud, iconic Merlion stands against the backdrop of Collyer Quay and other attractions such as the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the Museum of Science (that half-egg shaped structure)

We walked through the strip of Raffles Place to where the Merlion is. If you’re coming from any part in Singapore, just take the MRT and get off at Raffles Station.

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Garden by the Bay

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We crossed the hotel to tour around the Garden by the Bay. It’s a recent addition to the Marina Bay attraction and you can get to park free (but some attractions have entrance fees)

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For example, we took an aerial walk for the Cloud Forest for $10.00 (PHP300.00) and you can stay up there as long as you want. It’s a perfect place for selfie shots that I couldn’t resist one.

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Chinatown 

Chinatown is a perfect spot for gifts and souvenirs to take at home. It is also pretty accessible (via MRT or bus) and has lots of things to offer, especially if you are a bargain hunter like me. I managed to snag off 36 keychains just for $10 SGD (P300.00!) There are plenty of goods to choose from.

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The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

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While we’re here, we also visited the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, a jaw-dropping four-storey Temple which stands as an iconic landmark of Singapore’s Chinatown. As a Christian, it was the first time I set foot on a Buddhist Temple and it didn’t certainly disappoint. A strong hymn fill the place, inspiring reverence and peace in one’s soul, even for just a while. We’re supposed to visit Thian Hock Keng Temple, the oldest Chinese Temple in Singapore, but we ran out of time.

 

 

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Chicken Bayanihan – I guess they call this as ‘Bayanihan’ because you need three or more people to finish the chicken

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Musings so Far

Like every traveler with a tight budget, I decided not to go to the world-famous Singapore Sentosa or to the Universal Studios but if you have money (and time) to spare, don’t miss out anymore than I did. To sum it all up, my Singapore experience is nothing short of memorable. Singapore is everything I expected and more. While you’re there, you can also cross over to Malaysia and experience two states at once. That will make the slightly expensive airfare worth it.

Other tips I must share:

  • Nightlife in Singapore is definitely an experience you shouldn’t miss. It’s not hard to commute at night because of friendly drivers and safe streets. Garden by the Bay is especially beautiful at night.
  • Aside from Chinatown, you should also take a look at Little India if you’re in for some authentic Indian food or goods.
  • Always make sure to bring your passport as a tourist.
  • Locals speak in Singlish (Singapore-English) Most of them understand and speak English very well. Signages and street posts markers have English translation.
  • To eat cheap, you can get a decent meal at the food centers below high-rise apartments. Almost every building in SG has one. I heard from my aunt that many Singaporeans opt to dine-out instead of cooking their own meals (due to busy schedule and whatnot)

Being the most sustainable city in ASEAN, as well as the most developed city in the region, we Filipinos can definitely learn a lot from Singapore. Just by experiencing it, we know what to demand from our government because we know it’s possible to achieve it. YET, a big YET, what I’ve noticed from Singapore is that the people, in general, has the highest of respect to their city. They are more than willing to put up with all the rules just to live in harmony with other people. I guess it’s what spelled the difference between us and Singaporeans. They know Singapore wouldn’t become the Singapore now without their cooperation, their trust to the governing institutions and their sense of ‘community’ rather than the self-centric mindset prevailing here in the Philippines.

When Singapore broke away from Malaysia, everyone thought it sealed its fate. With hard work, unity and vision, it proved everyone wrong. Now, it’s time for the Philippines to do the same.

 

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SG is Sustainable Governance. See you again, SG!

PS: For those interested, I only spent $25 SGD (PHP800.00) for a whole-day of exploring Singapore. Considering the number of places I’ve seen, not too bad, I guess.

So I learned an important lesson today…

Today, I was supposed to meet one of my favorite writers for the first time. I was fortunate to be invited in an academic round-table at a big university in Taft, Manila for his intimate discussion of Politics in Literature.

But thanks to my poor time management and awful lack of hindsight in navigating through the chaotic traffic of Manila, I have no choice but to take a rain check and go home disappointed as crap (for the lack of better word to express my current state.)

The day started out fine. I woke up early. I didn’t have to report to work because I already told my boss I’m going to meet my idol and this is going to be one of the big moments to cap off my 2015 and I wouldn’t be able to perform my best at work if I let this one go by. He excused me with a slight nod. The urge to leap and hug him was tempting that time.

I decided to drop by my university to get my transcript and other important records for my application to Law School. Yes, law school. It’s such a shame because this day is supposed to be one of the days I shall look back fondly while I’m in hell the next year.

The processing of papers went fine and smooth. I was ordered to go back by January for my Certificate of Good Moral Character (yes, the law school requires it. hahahaha) and I still have plenty of time to commute to Taft for the seminar.

What happened was…I didn’t left right away. I stayed longer at my university than necessary. I dallied. I was on a nostalgic feels trip. I was confident I can get there on time because of the train system. Oh what on earth possessed me to think like that? This is Manila we’re talking about. A 30-minute ride on the streets to a 3-5 km destination is considered a miracle.

So what happened was, I left my common sense in Pureza and took a jeepney to go to Avenida where I’m supposed to ride the LRT-1 going to Taft. I have one hour to spare. 30 minutes to Avenida, a 30-minute-ride in LRT going to Taft. Plenty of time, I said to myself. (By this time, most of you who are reading this and are familiar of the commuting time from Pureza to Avenida are shaking your heads in despair)

Guess what? The ride going to Nagtahan bridge alone costed me 30 gob-smacking minutes. It didn’t help that the air was dreary and the whole city feels like it’s inside a colossal oven. Everywhere the jeepney driver turns, the roads are blocked and we’re always stuck in some intersection. The worse part is, I think I was the only one who’s making a big deal out of this. The other passengers just act like it’s just another good day to live in this city. Somebody should conduct a study to measure a typical Manileno’s ability to estimate the duration of his/her travel compared to the actual time he/she got there. I bet the results will be fascinating. Poor souls 

Legarda isn’t a better place either. We barely moved. I already chunked in 45 minutes of my time. In Kubler-Ross model of Five Stages of Grief, I was already bargaining with God. “Okay fine, I get it. I learned my lesson. Can you please speed this up? Please all I want is to see him with my own eyes and maybe touch his shirt. Just that then I’ll go home happy”

But we remained stationary in Legarda until all my time is used.  At this rate, I’ll be one hour late in the seminar which only lasts for 2 hours! And I hate being late. I don’t want the attention and I certainly don’t want my favorite author to think how much of a time leech I am. (geddit? because I suck at time management) Most especially, I can’t just walk in there smelling like exhaust fume and dust, my face salted with grime and my hair dry like straws. Eh screw it, I might as well go home and hope for another time. The acceptance sits like a cold slab of meat in my tummy. It’s so queer to think that sitting there and doing nothing while time flies by is so exhausting, as if the lost time happens to drain your energy at their wake.

And so, this experience got me in a Mr. Rochester-esque brooding mood.  I swear I must be giving off some dark aura on the LRT ride home. Everyone stayed away from me.

I don’t want to rant about how awful the traffic in Manila is and how the driver waits irritatingly long to get some passengers as the other vehicles around us surge forward. No, this one’s on me. Blame my poor judgment. My time management sucks. I was overconfident.

I certainly cannot bring these traits to law school wherein you are expected to work your ass off everyday, plan carefully your study habits and make the best use of your time. It will be better for me to take this awful experience into heart and learn from it than going on thinking how bad this day ended up. Most people find it hard to enjoy each day of their lives because we cannot have the good stuff all the time. It ultimately depends on ourselves on how can we end a negative experience in a positive note.

And I promise, one of these days, I will post a picture of me and that writer’s eventual encounter and how much I’ve waited for this day. What life taught me today is patience after all. (As if sitting on your ass for one whole hour fuming mad isn’t enough.)

When that day comes, I will look back at this ‘bad experience’ with affection.

 

 

Getting ‘Lost’ in Cebu

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Wander-lost – a strange habit of exploring a new place without giving any thought to where you are going. You go where your feet will take you. The challenge is to blend in with the locals and act as though you’re not getting lost.

When I landed on Cebu for the very first time, I thought it was a bit of anti-climactic. All my life, I’ve been itching to get there for reasons I can’t explain to myself, and here I am, my feet firmly planted on the Mactan International Airport, eyes scanning the big ‘Welcome to Cebu‘ billboard, unable to fully grasp it all.

I remembered just roughly a year ago, when my grandparents and I were walking along the bay at the coast of Dumaguete, enjoying the Visayan sun and the salty breeze, when a cousin suddenly pointed to a long island over the orange-caked horizon. “That’s Cebu Island” he said in broken Tagalog. I gazed over it and it occurred to me how its haughty spine of mountains is turned away from us; a place so near yet so distant.

I’ve always toyed with this crazy idea in my head that I am destined to spend the rest of my latter life in Cebu. The desire is still there, a very strange one at that, since I was born and raised as a Tagalog and Bisaya sounds Chinese for me. The thought of having to migrate to a thriving city full of history, surrounded by people who don’t speak your native language, holds a unique appeal as far as my adventurous spirit is concerned.

The taxi driver we got from the airport gave a brief tour around the city as we ride to the hotel. He discussed the things and activities to do in Cebu in almost perfect English, and pointed out the must-sees around the city like a seasoned tour guide. I smiled to myself, thinking how a tourism of the city falls not only on the burden of tourism officials or tourism slogans, but also with the civilians as well. You ought to show to the tourists that you are excited for them to enjoy your city. Back in Manila, my friends and I used to hang-out in Plaza Roma at Intramuros and we would smile and wave earnestly at the tourists, hoping to our hearts they would have a good time….. and that their bags or cameras or wallets won’t be stolen.

It was past 6pm when we reached the hotel. I decided to have my Wanderlost adventure in downtown Cebu despite the hour. No GPS, no Google Search, no car, no map…Just plain instinct. A lot of you would probably criticize me for safety reasons, but this sort of aimless traveling fills me with thrill just like roller coasters or ziplines do.

First stop: Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral. I took a jeep en route to downtown Cebu to the Cathedral, remaining silent throughout the ride as I listened to the rapid but mellowed Cebuano language being spoken inside the jeep, picking up important phrases for my memory. It’s indeed a strange feeling…to get lost in the sea of strangers whose language is a bizarre music to your ears.

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The belltower is now under construction

The cathedral is undergoing some kind of renovation. No doubt for it to withstand future tremors.

The Cathedral is indeed, is magnificent in its own right. Bathed in soft golden light of the plaza, a reverent silence would fill you just by looking at the church itself. Since there’s a mass going on, I was unable to take pictures of the interior of the church, but the grandness of the facade is enough. This church is one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, a standing echo of Cebu’s deeply-rooted Catholic roots, just as The Manila Cathedral is for the Manilenos. It’s a big relief that the church itself has been spared from the deadly earthquake that struck Cebu and Bohol last year.

See, even the street reminders are in Cebuano. They are fiercely proud of their language :)

See, even the street reminders are in Cebuano. They are fiercely proud of their language 🙂

As far as my geographical knowledge of Cebu is concerned, Magellan’s Cross would be just nearby the Cathedral. And after several minutes of wandering around, devouring the sights, I finally found it at the front of the Municipal Hall.

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The Magellan’s Cross is also under renovations, but that didn’t stop me from capturing the sacred relic in my camera. On the ceiling, paintings depict the arrival of Catholicism in Cebu island and how the Spaniards were able to penetrate the Philippines through Cebu.

Reflections on Spanish colonialism of the Philippines: During my elementary and highschool days, we are conditioned to think that the Spaniards back in the old days oppressed the Filipinos (indios) and we have to hate them for it. Perhaps it is to glorify the heroes of the revolution or the Filipinos who sacrificed their lives for our independence. Kind of like hating the bad guys in the movies. But I’ve long stopped thinking that colonialism is all-bad and pure evil. Spain formed our nation. Without them, I can’t imagine ourselves being united under one flag. It is out of their selfish interest, yes, but they made it possible to unite us all. I have to credit them for that.

Next stop is the Capitol Building. Going to the Capitol would mean riding through the downtown Cebu area. When traveling alone in Cebu, you can get a guy to let you ride in a motorcycle. It’s a mode of transportation that’s popular in Visayan provinces, and I have yet to see it in Luzon. Rate of fare would be around P20-P50.

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The Capitol: The heart of the whole province of Cebu.

The Capitol is a European-style building that sits in the middle of a busy intersection, facing toward downtown Cebu. For some reason, I have yet to see the Philippine flag being waved in front of the government buildings, which is pretty odd. Who knows, maybe it’s just flag wash day.

It struck me how Cebu is rapidly growing to be the Manila of the South. More and more skyscrapers fill the horizon, there is a constant hustle and bustle of people, and the streets are busy until midnight. They even have huge billboards and giant LEDs on the side of their buildings, kind of like little New York. Traffic and security is also a growing problem. What’s different is probably the absence of mass transportation system, which the government should focus more on. Taxpayers in Cebu and Davao and other parts of the Philippines carry the burden of maintaining the public transit systems in Manila, so it’s time to let them get a share of their taxes by developing major infrastructure projects in their area.

A colonial building preserved for modern use. Kilig! :)

A colonial building preserved for modern use. Kilig! 🙂

I decided to walk some more in downtown, watching as the shoppes close for the day. I’ve heard that when it comes to nightlife, Lapu-lapu city would provide more entertainment, but it was getting pretty late to tour the whole area. I contented myself with the promise of returning here once more, this time of my own time and expenses, to fully enjoy what the other cities have to offer.

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Cebu’s City Hall

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Cebu night scene

The only downside of Wanderlost adventuring is that, you don’t have any idea where to buy the pasalubongs. You don’t know where the cheapest place to eat, or the affordable souvenirs are. Despite that, I accepted the regrets of the Wanderlost Adventures. They would serve as motivation for me to return to that place again, this time going to the places I have missed.

You would ask, by the end of the day, if Cebu matched itself right into my own views of it and reinforced my desire to settle there in the future. Well, I barely scratch the surface, but I can imagine myself as a resident of the area. Sure, there are some issues in terms of security, traffic and congestion, but I can live with that. I wasn’t raised in busy Manila for nothing. Just as long as Cebu retains its historic roots, its livability and the warm Visayan hospitality, I’m willing to live here as a lone Tagalog in the the throng of proud Cebuanos. Well, until I should be able understand them, at least.

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On that note, could you give a must-see place in Cebu I definitely shouldn’t miss? Next time I’ll go wandering in Cebu, I’ll start from there 🙂 Thanks!

An Unexpected Home

Going out to Visayas for the first time, I have realized, feels like going out of the country. I don’t know what makes it that way; could be the travel time, or the distance, or the language, or the culture altogether, yet somehow, I felt a certain inkling of a home here. A Tagalog-born who had lived on Luzon all throughout her life wouldn’t wouldn’t mind settling here  in the future. It’s a different world that feels like home

And what could be a better place to settle in than Bacolod?

It’s not hard to fall in love with a city like Bacolod. It may be the laidback city life or the good food or the people who welcome you as their own. Its quaintness and charm would endear you like those of a child, you hope, that wouldn’t grow up.

Finally conquered you, Negros!

Finally conquered you, Negros!

Some intimate glimpse of the city. I apologize for the date in the bottom XD

Some intimate glimpse of the city. I apologize for the date in the bottom XD

My brief summer tryst in Bacolod is one I won’t be able to forget. Aside that it’s my first destination outside Luzon, I was able to experience the famous Visayan hospitality and those delicious snacks Bacolod is famous for except from its grilled chickens. If you’re looking out for a starting point to kick off your Visayan adventure, Bacolod is one of the good places to start. The hardest thing though, is leaving the city behind.

One thing about Bacolod is that it can’t seem to decide between a thriving metropolis or a lazy town who just wanted to be left alone in peace. In the end, it settled as both. You can go around the congested downtown area and emerge into a rustic  farm for a second. You would see hubs of gimikan and cool hang-outs like those in Thomas Morato in QC and drive upon a peaceful plaza after a few turns.  Far from the bustling urgency in Metro Manila, people walking along the streets of Bacolod seem to be taking up their time getting from one place to the next.

Mt. Kanlaon, my future conquest

Mt. Kanlaon, my future conquest

The first thing you would see when you arrive at port is the Mt. Kanlaon, Bacolod’s answer to Albay’s Mayon. Far from a perfect cone shape Mayon is known for, Kanlaon is bulkier and seems more intimidating at first sight. While Mayon is the epitome of grace and serenity, Kanlaon is a bulwark of restrained strength and power. I’m sure many people of Bacolod, foreign tourists as well, revere the mountain for that reason.

We stopped by the St. John Paul II Shrine building where you can catch a panoramic view of the city.

The Pope John Paul II Shrine by the port

The Pope John Paul II Shrine by the port

SM Bacolod from the Pope John Paul II Building

SM Bacolod from the Pope John Paul II Building

The SM Bacolod is one of the largest I’ve seen so far outside NCR. SM is one of the major indicators that Bacolod is no simple city in the South. In fact, it has been nominated many times in New seven rising cities for the past years and has consistently topped the list of most competitive cities across the Philippines.

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The infamous Bacolod Cathedral bearing the Team Patay, Team Buhay election reminder for church-goers

Bacolod downtown is one of the busiest places in the city. Since it’s sunday, as expected, the Cathedral is packed with people so we aren’t able to go inside. When I told to my Bacolod-born cousins how this giant TEAM PATAY, TEAM BUHAY post caused so much controversy in Manila, they just shrugged it off. They don’t think it’s wrong if the Church could post something like this. Freedom of expression applies to everybody, they said. I asked my aunt, a devout Catholic, if she voted for that line-up the Cathedral endorsed. Her votes, more or less, veered towards the Team Patay side.

Afterwards, we shop for pasalubongs near the plaza center. The plaza is where they perform the famous Maskara Festival. But aside from the colorful festival, Bacolod is also famous for one thing – food! There, I’ve got a real taste of the legendary Piaya, Biscocho and of course, the famous Napoleones. You can look for it for Bongbong’s or Merci, although I’m warning you, those Napoleones sell like pancakes so you should hurry to wrap up your pasalubongs.

In one of the shoppes, they can let you watch how a piaya is made and you can buy one fresh out of the stove

In one of the shoppes, they can let you watch how a piaya is made and you can buy one fresh out of the stove

A box of Napoleones is more expensive than the other treats but trust me, every peso for these babies is worth it.

A box of Napoleones is more expensive than the other treats but trust me, every peso for these babies is worth it.

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Napoleones is a basically a two soft square-cut bread with a sweet coconut paste stacked between them.

To work up an appetite, we explored the city some more. Our cousins brought us to a town plaza, as my aunt tells me, ‘the Luneta Park of Bacolod minus Rizal’. When we got there, we saw some kids around our age doing neat exhibitions skills in skateboard and skates. A big playground is also located by the side of the plaza along the spacious fountain where people can feed some fishes with small nuggets for only about P10.00

The capital building of Occidental Mindoro

The capital building of Occidental Mindoro

Believe me, he's skateboarding XD The skateboard darted away from him and shot just came out too late

Believe me, he’s skateboarding XD The skateboard darted away from him and shot just came out too late

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We had dinner at the Chicken Deli, said to be the home of the original Chicken Inasal. The chicken there tastes like it has been soaked in some kind of Italian sauce which is incredibly tasty.

The so-called original Mang Inasal

The so-called original Mang Inasal

For desert, Bacolod also has this cool milk tea shops and Korean convenience stores. Just for a late midnight snack, my cousins drove us to a cozy Korean shop not far away from the place we’re staying. There we had a real taste of the Fish-shaped Korean ice cream which I’ve never ever tasted before. To think that I will taste it for the first time here in Bacolod instead in Manila 😀

Even though we only ordered the ice cream, the crew is nice enough to let us stay. They even cut the ice cream and served it to us as if it’s some kind of a fancy desert, which is in a way, it probably is.

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And for one last destination, we head straight to the Bacolod Capitol Building. It has a nice fountain in front and the whole lawn can stand as another plaza for hang-outs and class practices. Did you notice how many plazas Bacolod has? I guess it goes to show that you don’t need any fancy buildings or landmarks to know that a city is growing. Sometimes, less ‘modernity’ is a good thing and I hope Bacolod would be able to sustain its environment-friendly and laidback atmosphere when I return here again.

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The fountain in front of the Capitol Building

The fountain in front of the Capitol Building

Sadly because of our limited time, we were unable to go outside the city to explore Kanlaon National Park or the Talisay Ruins.I just took it as a good thing. These unexplored destinations will add only to my long list of things to look forward to when I visit Bacolod for the next time.

I will never know why such a Tagalog girl like me could feel so home at here. I never understand what the people say, but their smiles are enough. I didn’t grow up here but I didn’t know why I want to have my place here and start my life here, fresh from college. Is Manila draining me that much? Is it just the adventurer in me speaking? Or could it be Bacolod’s inner charm? I would never know. What thing I know is I have to leave the city to find out.

And by the time I discover what I really want, I know Bacolod will be there, waiting.

Islands Insider: On how Nat Geo portrays the 7,107 islands of the Philippines

So after a hellish week for me, I decided to spend the sleepy Sunday morning  with some remote hogging and couch-hugging. It’s a rare moment for me; I’m seldom at home and whenever I am, my mom and her friends are in tune with their favorite teleseryes, reality shows and variety shows. hay, how typical Filipino. My mom isn’t even aware that her all-time favorite star Sharon Cuneta’s shows are aired non-stop in Cinema One all day long. (One channel only exists for her and that’s Channel ***!)

My dad’s another thing though. He’s a fan of Discovery Channel, Nat Geo and History Channel.If there’s one thing I owned him, it’s my geekiness and enduring interests in basically everything. But lately, all he’s been watching are the shows from History Channel that they eventually bore me. (But the shows are good! For one thing, HC featured the Maguindanao Massacre and the Manila Hostage Massacre with incredible analysis and in-depth interview of the survivors)

Okay, I admit I am pretty desperate on seeing my homeland in some foreign documentary feature (I am relatively jealous of Malaysia in its “Malaysia, Truly Asia” song which gets stuck in your head all day long. Since the golden age of WOW Philippines, I’ve never seen an ad that’s so creative and original)

And so, one day I was hogging down the channels after a bloody battle with my brothers over the remote, I stumbled upon National Geographic’s Islands Insider. I was stunned when I saw the name: Coron on its header, and even more amazed that the natives of the islands and Filipino experts are being interviewed complete with subtitles (hah, as if I ever need one!)

The show features the wonderful, amazing sights in Coron, Palawan and more importantly, the people who have been calling this their home ever since they and their ancestors can remember.

Even the logo’s pretty badass

I made a little research and found out that Islands Insider exclusively features the many islands of the Philippines..only. It’s more of a travel documentary that aired last June 23 and follows host Ginggay Hontiveros in travelling the different parts of the country, unraveling diverse culture and ethnic tribes. It’s divided into 6 parts, with the 2 earlier episodes featuring the Batad Rice Terraces and Coron.

Its writer-director Gabby Malvar is one of the renowned Filipino travel writers out there who promotes Responsible Tourism as a way of enjoying the new sights and experiences the Philippines has to offer. He urged travelers out there not to go to Boracay or Bohol or the underground river or any overly-populated tourist spots because these places need ample time to regenerate its resources and beauty. Furthermore, he encouraged them to stay out of the popular itinerary and go explore the country’s hidden beauty on their own.

I like him already.

Furthermore, he’s also amazed of the fact that even if foreigners are appreciating the country’s inherent beauty, on a local level, we Filipinos are yet to fully-recognize our country’s potential. When it comes to tourist spots, our imaginations are only limited to the pristine beaches of Boracay or the Underground River; there are still wonderful sights out there that we fail to recognize because it isn’t as well-known as the overrated ones.

Back to the Islands Insider, the show’s pretty interesting. The shots are good, the script well-written. It made me want to go out there and travel the whole Philippines right away!

Someday, I want to be a part of the team like those of the Islands Insider crew. I want to go out there and proclaim how beautiful my country is! Kudos to the Islands Insider Team, you have done a good job honoring the Philippines with all the recognition it truly deserves.

Stay tuned for another episode tonight at National Geographic channel, 8:30 PM. Early Sunday replays are also available as it is in my case. My whole family’s going to watch the Finale of Pinoy Big Brother tonight on local channel. My life sucks!

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